STUDIO CITY (CBS) — The holiday season is a time for celebration, but those parties can also be hazardous to your pets.

Dr. Karen “Doc” Halligan visited the KCAL 9 studios Tuesday to talk about holiday hazards for our furry friends.

A recent survey by the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association revealed that almost 90% of pet owners include their four-legged furry friends in their holiday celebrations and more than 60% of pet owners buy their pet a gift for the holidays. Sadly, what should be a festive occasion often devolves into a time of suffering for pets and a financial and emotional nightmare for pet owners.

The holiday spikes in pet accidents are largely due to changes in routine, amplified stress, more household traffic, and an increase in food as well as in unexpected situations.

Pretty decorations and lavish meals play an important part in most holiday celebrations, but what may seem harmless and fun for you and your guests may be very harmful to your pets. So before you open that bottle of champagne and start celebrating, spend some time planning and preparing for the well-being of your cat or dog during these festive but all too often stressful and chaotic yearly rituals.


Thanksgiving is all about sharing, and you might be tempted to invite your cat or dog to join you as you indulge in a mountain of goodies. While this seems innocent enough—after all, you love your pet and it is a part of the family—the truth is that it’s much more loving for you not to share your holiday meal. A large percentage of cats and dogs end up sick on Thanksgiving Day, or on the days that follow, and instead of celebrating with the family they end up in the hospital on medication.

Why must you resist the temptation of giving even a few giblets of turkey to your pet? Because there is a good chance you will end up in the vet’s office or, worse, the emergency room with a $1,000 bill and a suffering pet.

The majority of emergency room visits during Thanksgiving revolve around the turkey. And don’t even think about adding a ladle of gravy to your pets’ kibble. Owners must abstain from feeding any table foods to their pets. Even a small piece of butter-coated vegetable can cause a life-threatening pancreatitis in certain pets. Don’t risk it. Strange foods and diet changes are hazardous to your pets’ digestive system and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and a very sick animal.

If you can’t say no to those big brown eyes staring up at you while you savor your incredible meal, simply put your pets in another room with some of their favorite toys and their regular food and water. That way, you will resist the urge to share your holiday feast.

Toxic turkey

Refrain from giving any part of that beautiful bird to your cat or dog. While it may seem like just a little piece of turkey skin couldn’t hurt your pet, it can actually cause a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis. The pancreas is a vital organ, which lies on the right side of the abdomen. It has two functions: to produce hormones, such as insulin and to produce enzymes that help in digestion of food. The production of enzymes helps break down food to allow the absorption of nutrients. But when pets eat high-fat foods, it triggers the pancreas to produce and release a large amount of enzymes. Subsequently, the pancreas malfunctions and the enzymes end up digesting the pancreas itself. Clinical signs of pancreatitis include severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. Pancreatitis may occur as a single episode or a recurring event. Most cases need immediate medical attention as pets can quickly develop potentially fatal side effects such as dehydration, shock, blood clotting disorders, heart arrhythmia, and liver or kidney damage. If you suspect your pet has pancreatitis, take them to the vet immediately. Overweight dogs are even more at risk.

I can’t speak enough about the dangers of bones. Cooked turkey bones can splinter and lodge in an animal’s throat or intestines with life-threatening consequences. The carcass can also create dangers as it may harbor salmonella, an organism that lives in the turkey’s intestinal tract. The cooking process usually kills all of the bacteria, but occasionally the center of the turkey may be undercooked, especially if it’s large or full of stuffing. If the carcass sits out at room temperature for too long, the bacteria will multiply, and pets can become violently ill from eating it. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, listlessness, fever, and loss of appetite. Make sure you either freeze the carcass or tie it up in a plastic bag and throw it out in a secure dumpster where no pets can get to it. The same goes for the string used to tie up the turkey; dripping with turkey juices, that string is a delicacy for cats and dogs just waiting for you to turn your back.

Holiday meal

The average Thanksgiving Day meal is around 3,000 calories. We may violate our diets and good senses, but don’t subject your pets to the dangers of overfeeding. Pets shouldn’t gain any extra pounds over the holidays. Keep all candy and baked goods out of reach of hungry pets and make sure your cat or dog isn’t left unsupervised in the kitchen. Again, when removing string from ham or other packaged meats, place it in a plastic bag and dispose of it outside immediately. Some pets find packaging quite tasty and will chew and swallow it, with disastrous results. Never give your pets alcoholic beverages, chocolate, or people food of any kind. Believe it or not, most pets would prefer more attention instead of food and toys!

Your cat or dog doesn’t understand how dangerous the holidays really are for them, so as a responsible pet parent, you need to take control. With tasty morsels everywhere they look, even the best-behaved pet may be tempted to steal food from the kitchen counter or rummage through the garbage. So keep food pushed toward the back of counters. Incredibly, dogs have been known to pull whole turkeys off of ovens and tables!

Traffic troubles

Don’t just expect that your pets, which may not be used to increased traffic in the house, will take this added stress in stride. Take precautions to take the edge off your pets by creating a safe haven to which they can retreat. Provide a quiet room where your cat or dog can escape the holiday activities and guests. Make sure to include their food, water, and favorite scratching post or bed.

Dogs and cats are creatures of habit, so don’t deviate from exercise or feeding schedules. Also, be on the alert when guests arrive. Make sure all visitors know not to let pets escape out the door. It’s also a great time to make sure that all pets have collars with current ID tags and information.

Be sure to caution all guests, both kids and adults, not to give your pets anything except their normal food and treats. Non-pet owners are often unaware of the dangers of offering food from their plate to your begging pets.


Homes often become the most festive around Christmas time, but for many cats and dogs these homes become a veritable place for trouble. Here’s an easy rule of thumb: If it’s something that could hurt your child, it’s most likely dangerous for your pet. All family members should exercise extra vigilance around this time to ensure that everyone sails smoothly through this joyous, but often jeopardous, holiday.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree…

Your beautiful Christmas tree poses many unforeseen dangers to your pet, starting with the water. Pets have a much lower line of sight, and to them a bowl of water is a bowl of water, whether there’s a Christmas tree in it or not. The problem is that pinesap mixed with water, fertilizer, and additives make that Christmas tree water toxic to your pets. Also, stagnant or long-standing tree water can harbor millions of bacteria, which, if ingested by your cat or dog, will cause nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. To solve this problem, be sure to use a water container that doesn’t allow your pets access to take a drink. Such containers are usually available wherever trees are sold.

Christmas tree needles, live or artificial, are toxic, sharp, and indigestible. They can get painfully lodged in the esophagus or intestines.

Christmas tree lights can cause electrical burns, choking, or electrocution if pets play with or chew on them. Be sure to turn off all Christmas lights when you’re not around.

Decorating the Christmas tree requires creativity. Having cats or dogs in the household adds a whole new factor to the equation. Shiny glass ornaments, angel hair, twinkling lights, gold tinsel, and icicles are all irresistible toys for cats and dogs. Everything on the bottom third of your tree is up for grabs. Sharp breakable ornaments, small dreidels, ribbons, bows, ornament hooks, tinsel, and icicles are all very dangerous to pets. Every year, some poor cat or dog actually ingests a broken glass ornament, only to seriously lacerate the inside of their mouth, stomach, and intestines. Even wrapped candy canes can be ingested, causing serious problems. One solution is to decorate the bottom third of your tree with items less likely to cause trouble, such as wooden, metal, or resin-cast ornaments. Hang your treasured baubles high on the tree where they won’t get knocked down and broken or, worse, eaten by your cat or dog. I’ve been to homes where trees could win prizes incorporating these ideas, so be creative and just keep your cat or dog in mind when you decorate that tree.

Last but not least, make sure to secure the tree to a wall or ceiling, as cats and dogs are notorious for knocking that well-adorned tree right over. Falling Christmas trees not only hurt pets, but can create a potential fire hazard as well.

Home for the holidays

With the hustle and bustle of Christmas, many pet owners are stressed trying to get ready for out-of-town visitors, decorate the tree, bake cookies, buy presents, and entertain. Guess who else is stressed? Your cat or dog. They easily sense your stress and this alone makes them panic, never mind all the other distractions. Remember to try and stick to your pet’s normal exercise and feeding schedules. Dogs and cats need routine. Don’t forget to lavish them with love and attention instead of goodies or snacks. An occasional treat is okay, but don’t go overboard. They don’t know the difference. Sometimes guilty pet owners will give too many treats trying to make amends to their furry friends. Don’t; instead, lavish pets with hugs and kisses.

Pets can get accidentally stepped on or tripped over, so if you plan on having a party or lots of visitors, either set up your pet in a separate, quiet room or keep a closer eye on your pet. It only takes one unfocused moment or a turned back for a happy holiday to turn into a horrible one. And remember that this time of the year many animals get lost, so be sure all pets have a current ID tag with updated information.

Decking the halls

Dogs and cats will be curious about any new item or decoration in their environment. After all, it’s their home, too, and they need to inspect anything unusual to assess the situation, especially cats. Even just moving furniture can set some animals into a panic, since their normal environment is changing and this stresses them out.

Christmas time brings all kinds of unique hazards for your pets from Hanukkah candles to decorative wreaths. Many a pet has gotten tangled up and even strangled by indoor holiday lights.

Christmas stockings full of tiny toys, candy, and presents need to be safeguarded.

When lighting candles, the menorah, or advent wreath, make sure to keep pets away from the flames. They can easily get burned. Fireplace colors or salts, added to give your fire a beautiful glow, are toxic to pets if ingested.

Hide or tape all exposed electrical cords to the walls or floors so pets won’t chew or trip on them. You can also spray the cords with bitter apple. This is an over the counter spray available from your vet or pet store that has a very bitter taste and will discourage your pets from chewing.

Liquid potpourris are dangerous if spilled or ingested by your pets, causing severe oral, facial, and eye damage.

Perilous plants

Holiday plants may be lovely and festive, but many can cause digestive upset when nibbled or eaten; some are downright toxic when ingested. Here’s a rundown of the toxicity level of the most popular Christmas plants.

Mistletoe—all parts are toxic, especially the berries, which contain a natural compound that can cause heart problems
Ivy—all parts are moderate to very toxic
Holly—moderate to very toxic, especially the berries and leaves
Mistletoe—all parts are toxic, especially the berries, which contain a natural compound that can cause heart problems
Christmas rose—all parts have moderate toxicity
Philodendron—all parts have moderate toxicity
Dieffenbachia—all parts have moderate toxicity
Christmas greens (such as balsam, juniper, cedar, pine, and fir)—all parts have a low-level of toxicity
Hibiscus—may cause vomiting or bloody diarrhea if ingested
Poinsettias—leaves and stems are low in toxicity, but will cause stomach upset if large amounts are eaten

Visions of sugarplums

Candy isn’t good for you and it certainly isn’t good for your pets. Aluminum and plastic candy wrappers have great texture, bright colors, and crinkly sounds that intrigue cats and dogs. Pets often will unintentionally consume these items while playing with them. This can lead to stomach upset and/or intestinal blockage.

Many dogs possess a fondness for chocolate, which can be deadly. Be on the lookout for yummy-smelling packages under the tree. Your dog will surely sniff out and potentially consume these dangerous gifts. Keep all chocolate in sealed containers or cupboards and off shelves, countertops, and coffee tables. Never leave pets unsupervised in the kitchen.

Don’t put out bowls of nuts. These seemingly harmless snacks can cause intestinal upset or choking if ingested by your pet.

Never give pets breads or baked goods. Yeast and dough are very dangerous. When eaten the dough will rise and expand in the stomach, causing abdominal pain, bloating, gas, vomiting, disorientation, and depression.

All holiday treats are harmful to animals; this includes alcohol, rich fatty foods, scraps, candy, and bones. Just say no to any holiday food for your pet. If you feel you must cook for them, go ahead and bake some safe cat and dog treats. Cool to room temperature before serving.

’Tis the season

Live puppies and kittens are not toys or gifts and should never be given as presents. Animal shelters across America are flooded with unwanted pets after the holidays when reality sets in that this “gift” is a living, breathing creature with lots of needs. Subsequently, people readily discard them.

Don’t let pets play with things like wrapping paper, ribbons or bows, or packaging material of any sort. Many pets will inadvertently swallow them, resulting in choking, upset stomach, or intestinal blockage. In general, don’t let pets play with items not made for them. This includes foil, plastic wrap, six-pack beverage holders, and batteries.

Cats love to play with all kinds of string and, yes, they will sometimes eat it. So don’t give them access to string of any sort, ribbons, rubber bands, strings of lights, cords, and especially tinsel and icicles.

Remember to check with your vet’s office to see if they have reduced hours over the holidays and ask where you should take your pet in the event of an emergency. Have this number handy just in case.

The best presents you can give your pet are health, your undivided attention, and lots of love.

For more information, visit Dr. Halligan online.

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